Israeli Costume Contest for Children Honors Soldier Who Killed an Incapacitated Palestinian
An Israeli soldier who killed an incapacitated Palestinian man is now being celebrated in one of the most unusual ways: a costume contest for children. Prizes for winners include a family vacation, a classical guitar, amusement park tickets, and gift cards.
Israeli soldier Elor Azaria was sentenced February 21 to 18 months in prison. In the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Azaria had shot and killed an injured Palestinian in March 2016. Video of the attack was captured by the Israeli human rights organization B'Tselem and circulated widely.
A representative of the United Nations Human Rights Council condemned the 18-month sentence as "excessively lenient." But given the history of the Israeli justice system, it's somewhat surprising Azaria was punished at all. There are hundreds of attacks by Israelis every year against Palestinians and their property, and few perpetrators face any legal consequences.
Azaria's sentence also contrasts starkly with the 11-year punishment handed down on February 27 to an Israeli extremist who had stabbed a fellow Jew under the mistaken impression that he was Palestinian.
For months, far-right Israeli activists have campaigned for the soldier's release. They have turned Azaria into a hero, calling Abdel Fattah al-Sharif, the man he killed, a "terrorist." Before he was executed, al-Sharif had stabbed an Israeli soldier in Hebron, a Palestinian city in the West Bank, which the Israeli military has been illegally occupying in contravention of international law for nearly 50 years.
One of the more prominent leaders in this movement, Ran Karmi Buzaglo, announced a costume contest in the convict's honor in a February 24 post on Facebook, where he has nearly 17,000 followers.
Buzaglo titled the post "The child of all of us!!!" and wrote, "Send a picture of your children dressed as Elor Azaria and participate in the big raffle. The picture that receives the greatest number of 'likes' will win," according to a translation from Israel National News.
He later posted photos of three of the contest's top submissions and announced that people had donated more prizes for the winners.
During Azaria's trial, Buzaglo managed a public relations campaign for the soldier and his family. In January, Buzaglo was arrested after storming the stage of a rally in Tel Aviv. Thousands of people had gathered at the demonstration to condemn violent threats by far-right Israeli extremists against the IDF chief of staff and members of the military tribunal that convicted Azaria.
Israeli media also created a video (in Hebrew) interviewing mothers who dressed their children as the convicted Israeli soldier.
The enthusiastic reaction to the costume contest poses an interesting juxtaposition with the claims of the Israeli government and its supporters that Palestinians "teach their children to hate."
Israel's Prime Minister Netanyahu and several Israeli government officials, including Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Culture Minister Miri Regev, have called for Azaria to be pardoned. Bennett has said, "I have killed lots of Arabs in my life — and there is no problem with that." Regev has declared on live television that she is "happy to be a fascist."